Wounded in the trenches of France, backwoodsman Henry Bright returns to West Virginia. Alongside him is a guardian angel that manifests itself in the form of a talking horse. When Henry’s wife dies in childbirth, this divine presence orders him to burn down his shack and escape with his child – no ordinary boy but the future king of heaven. Meanwhile, Henry is being hunted by his vengeful father-in-law, the sinister Colonel, and his two half-witted sons.
Singer-songwriter Josh Ritter’s first novel aspires to a sort of Appalachian magic realism with uneven but occasionally thrilling effect. Ritter displays an innate sense of structure, skilfully handling the story’s overlapping timeframes, and switching between first world war realism (“at times star shells would brightly illumine the ground, as if the moon were making bayonet lunges at the earth”) and the more fantastical elements of the story. Despite a hefty dose of quirk for quirk’s sake, Bright’s Passage stays just the right side of fey.
Bright’s Passage, by Josh Ritter, Dial Press, RRP$22, 208 pages